A guide: how not to say stupid stuff about Egypt

"The Twitter Revolution”: No, this is the Revolution of the Egyptian people.  Egyptians resisted for decades.  They were tortured, jailed and repressed by the Mubarak and Sadat regimes.  Twitter and Facebook are tools.  They did not stand in front of the water canons, or go to jail for all these years to get the credit.  There were demonstrations all summer long and for a several years through out Egypt but they are rarely covered, because we are worried about what Sarah Palin said, or some moronic Imam saying something stupid.  Does it sound a bit arrogant to take credit for a people’s struggle?

America's true history of religious (in)tolerance

The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.

From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”

First they came for web sites. Then they came for the New York Times.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut wants the Justice Department to investigate the New York Times for publishing articles based on the gargantuan collection of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

Lieberman, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, told Fox News: "To me, New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship. And whether they've committed a crime, I think that bears very intensive inquiry by the Justice Department."

via ajr.org

Tea Party loves their Constitution like their Bible -- just the convenient parts

Traditionally (and what is conservatism if not respect for tradition?) conservatives have railed against "Constitutional tinkering," while progressives have proposed all manner of amendments—some successful (women's suffrage), others not (equal rights for women), still others, well, a bit unserious (a ban on "war for any purpose").

For a party (whether of the Tea or Grand Old variety) that sees the Constitution as something so perfect as to have been divinely inspired, the idea that it needs to be altered fundamentally is beyond crediting, something like putting the Fifth Commandment up to a popular referendum.

But the Tea Party vision of the Constitution has never been one of fidelity to the document itself, or even to the Framers. Instead, it's a devotion to those scraps and snippets of the Constitution they accept, an embrace of only the Framers they admire, and an eagerness to jettison anything that conflicts with or complicates that vision, including the rest of the Constitution.

Here, then, if you needed it, is another indication that the Republican Party—in an act of grand, ongoing, unconscious irony—is assigning true conservatism to the ash heap of history and replacing it with a brand of radicalism in which nothing, not even the Constitution, is sacrosanct.

Extending tax cuts more costly than the stimulus

How we got here:

So how did we get to the point where Obama is about to break one of his biggest campaign promises in extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy? First, the votes weren’t there for Democrats. On Saturday, Senate Republicans -- assisted by a handful of Democrats -- filibustered two amendments that would have 1) extended the Bush tax cuts only for those making less than $250,000 and 2) extended them for those making less than $1 million. And if Democrats don’t have the votes now, they certainly won’t have them next year when the next Congress convenes. Second, the employment situation is worse off than anyone would have expected a year ago, and that has put an enormous amount of pressure on Democrats not to change the current tax policy, even if the facts don't necessarily fit the narrative that tax cuts create jobs. If the economy was creating 200,000 to 300,000 jobs per month -- instead of the 39,000 in November -- Democrats would have a stronger argument to let the cuts expire. Now? “We don't want to take actions this year that will affect this year's spending and this year's taxes in a way that will hurt the recovery,” Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said last night on “60 Minutes.”

Fighting vs. getting things done:

Of course, as Paul Krugman advises, President Obama could draw a line in the sand and threaten to veto any legislation that cuts taxes for the wealthy -- either in this lame duck or next year. But in addition to opening himself up to the charge of raising taxes in a struggling economy, that action would also imperil all the other items on Obama’s to-do list: jobless benefits, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, and ratification of New START. A question for Democrats: Would getting those priorities through the lame duck be worth caving in on the Bush tax cuts? On Sunday, Indiana GOP Sen. Dick Lugar said the votes are there to pass New START. And on Friday, GOP Sen. Scott Brown said he backs DADT repeal, which improves the likelihood of that happening. And then there’s this: Is December -- when few Americans are really paying attention -- really the time to draw a line in the sand and fight?

Why didn’t congressional Democrats work on this six months ago?

Here’s another question for Democrats, especially those on Capitol Hill who are upset that they seem to be caving in on the Bush tax cuts: Why didn’t they work on this last spring/summer, when they might have had a stronger hand to play? As the Times says, “In meetings with administration officials after the Senate votes, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and many other House and Senate Democrats voiced deep unhappiness at the prospect of extending all the tax cuts and also expressed their belief that the White House did not appear to be getting enough for such a big concession.” It was the Capitol Hill Dem leadership -- more than the White House -- that pushed for putting off any votes on the Bush tax cuts. At the time, it was about trying to insulate some vulnerable Democrats from votes on taxes. Talk about short-sighted leadership decisions.

Bigger than the stimulus?

And here’s something to chew on: Extending the Bush tax cuts for two years -- along with extending jobless benefits and targeted tax cuts -- would likely cost more (approximately $1 trillion) than the stimulus cost (approximately $800 billion). Here’s our back-of-envelope math arriving at the $1 trillion approximation: If the price tag of extending the Bush tax cuts over 10 years is nearly $4 trillion, then doing it for two years is some $800 billion. And extending the jobless benefits and targeted tax cuts raises that price tag even higher.

Close the Washington Monument - Bruce Schneier

We should close the Washington Monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears...

Some call terrorism an "existential threat" against our nation. It's not. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't make an existential dent in our nation. Automobile-related fatalities -- at 42,000 per year, more deaths each month, on average, than 9/11 -- aren't, either. It's our reaction to terrorism that threatens our nation, not terrorism itself. The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends...

The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, -- our overreaction to anything different or unusual -- our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we're willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

Terrorism isn't a crime against people or property. It's a crime against our minds, using the death of innocents and destruction of property to make us fearful. Terrorists use the media to magnify their actions and further spread fear. And when we react out of fear, when we change our policy to make our country less open, the terrorists succeed -- even if their attacks fail. But when we refuse to be terrorized, when we're indomitable in the face of terror, the terrorists fail -- even if their attacks succeed.

We can reopen the monument when every foiled or failed terrorist plot causes us to praise our security, instead of redoubling it. When the occasional terrorist attack succeeds, as it inevitably will, we accept it, as we accept the murder rate and automobile-related death rate; and redouble our efforts to remain a free and open society.

‘Zero risk’ versus ‘acceptable risk’

Every society accepts some risks as part of its overall social contract. People die when they drive cars, they die when they drink, they die from crime, they die when planes go down, they die on bikes. The only way to eliminate the risks would be to eliminate the activities -- no driving, no drinking, no weapons of any kind, no planes or bikes. While risk/reward tradeoffs vary between, say, Sweden and China, no nation accepts the total social controls that would be necessary to eliminate risk altogether.

Yet when it comes to dealing with terrorism, politicians know that they will not be judged on the basis of an "acceptable level of risk." They know that they can't even use that term when discussing the issue. ("Senator Flaccid thinks it's 'acceptable' for terrorists to blow up planes. On Election Day, show him that politicians who give in to terror are 'unacceptable' to us.") And they know for certain that if -- when -- a plane blows up with Americans aboard, then cable news, their political opponents, Congressional investigators, and everyone else will hunt down any person who ever said that any security measure should be relaxed.

This is the political tragedy of "security theater."



Review of TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety: hide your kids, hide your wife

Last spring, a group of scientists at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) including John Sedat Ph.D., David Agard Ph.D., Robert Stroud, Ph.D. and Marc Shuman, M.D. sent a letter of concern to the TSA regarding the implementation of their 'Advanced Imaging Technology', or body scanners as a routine method of security screening in US airports. Of specific concern is the scanner that uses X-ray back-scattering. In the letter they raise some interesting points, which I've quoted below:
  • "Our overriding concern is the extent to which the safety of this scanning device has been adequately demonstrated. This can only be determined by a meeting of an impartial panel of experts that would include medical physicists and radiation biologists at which all of the available relevant data is reviewed."
  • "The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high."
  • "In addition, it appears that real independent safety data do not exist."
  • "There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations. We are unanimous in believing that the potential health consequences need to be rigorously studied before these scanners are adopted."

Fact checking the news

When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet. All you can hope is that more people will do what Cooper did — so when the next crazy lie races around the world, people’s first instinct will be to doubt it, not repeat it.